New Caledonia, a strategic archipelago of 270,000 inhabitants in the South Pacific, chose Sunday once again to remain in the French fold despite an increase in the vote for independence, during a second self-determination referendum marked by a unprecedented mobilization.
French President Emmanuel Macron greeted the result “with a deep sense of gratitude” and “humility” in a solemn address from the Elysee Palace.
The no to independence came in first with 53.26% of the vote, but lost more than three points compared to the first referendum of November 4, 2018, where the pro-France won with 56.7% of the vote , a result considered at the time to be tighter than expected.
These results confirm the separatists, who although losers, are delighted with this progression. It gives them hope for a victory in the third referendum, which under the Noumea Accord, possibly organized by 2022.
“If it is not today (that independence wins, editor’s note), it will be in the third referendum. We respect tonight’s result, ”said Pascal Sawa, mayor of Houaïlou and member of the Caledonian Union (FLNKS).
“I am not satisfied with the trend we have this evening, which again highlights the deep divide that separates Caledonian society on this fundamental issue of independence,” said the president of the government, Thierry Santa (right , loyalist).
Progression of yes
In this territory 18,000 km from Paris, which represents one of the last bastions of European sovereignty in the area, the ballot was marked by a historic turnout of 85.64%, higher than that of the first ballot there. is two years old (81%).
“The results are quite surprising, with figures which attest to a real progression of the yes camp, on the rise in all the municipalities”, analyzes the doctor in geopolitics, Pierre-Christophe Pantz.
In the capital Nouméa, a loyalist stronghold, the yes increased by almost 4 points, reaching 23.31%.
Nearly 180,598 voters from this French archipelago, colonized in 1853 and with large nickel reserves, were invited to answer the question: “Do you want New Caledonia to achieve full sovereignty and become independent?” “.
In the streets of Noumea and in the working-class neighborhoods with a Kanak majority, the separatists have largely shown their enthusiasm throughout the day and evening with horn concerts and parades of flags.
On the other hand, the mood was calmer among supporters of the retention in France.
In a polling station in the popular Kanak district of Montravel, north of Nouméa, Chanié, Kanak from Lifou, in an orange dress and corn leaf headdress, chose yes, “because I want those who go. to lead our country, they are our children, and no longer France ”.
Daniela was waiting for her at 7:30 am, in front of the polling stations in the Vallée des Colons, a multiethnic district of Noumea: “I vote ‘no’ because France has always been there for us, I hope it will remain so.”
Not all the inhabitants of Caillou were able to speak: the electorate of this sensitive ballot is conditioned on several criteria, such as justifying a continuous residence in New Caledonia since at least December 31, 1994, being a native of the archipelago or fall under the customary Kanak civil status.
Christophe, 57, whose parents and grandparents were born on the Caillou, chose France, believing that “New Caledonia was not ready to be financially independent”.
Guillaume Berger, another Caldoche, opted for the yes. “Our presence here will be called into question if we are not able to build independence with the Kanaks.”
The consultation took place without any barrier or mask, since the archipelago is free from COVID-19, thanks to a drastic reduction in international flights and a mandatory quarantine for all arrivals.
This referendum, like the first, is part of a process of decolonization started in 1988 by the Matignon accords, signed by the Kanak independentist Jean-Marie Tjibaou and the loyalist Jacques Lafleur, after several years of virtual civil war between Kanaks, first people, and Caldoches, of European origin.
These clashes culminated in the hostage-taking and storming of Ouvea cave in May 1988 (25 dead).
These agreements, consolidated ten years later by the Noumea Accord, instituted an economic and geographical rebalancing in favor of the Kanaks and a sharing of political power, even if social inequalities remain significant.